There were quite a few things that could have been challenging, but only a couple of those actually proved to be so:
The men and women segregation – starting with the first evening, women and men were separated and this remained so for the entire duration of the course. We had different sleeping quarters and eating rooms, and in the meditation hall the men were seated on the left and women on the right. In the yard there was a line delimitating the areas, and the idea was we were supposed to be ignoring each other completely during the 10 days. It wasn’t so hard to do if you did what you were instructed to: focus on your own self, the inside.
The noble silence – the not interacting with any of the other participants for 10 full days. The only people we could talk to during the course were the teacher for issues related to our meditation, and one of the volunteers assigned to address any admin issues we might have.
Some people found this quite challenging, but to me it was maybe the best part of the whole 10 days. Before the course started, Boca, Carmen and I made this agreement that we were not going to as much as look in each other’s direction for the whole 10 days. It worked so well that we’d sometimes end up eating at the same table and not realising it.
It was weird not saying good morning to our roomates when waking up, or good night when going to sleep, but truth be told, not “having to” make small talk with others for a change was so liberating…
At the end of the course we found talking again such a weird experience and we could not recognize our own voice. I guess the voice in our head does sound different than the one we project outside :).
The waking up at 4 am – surprisingly so, not at all such a big issue as I had imagined. In fact, I woke up feeling refreshed pretty much all the 10 days. A big part of it was the fact that I was asleep by 9.05pm, and the other one was that after 11am we only had food once, fruits at 5pm. Still… I was pretty proud of myself for this early waking up I didn’t think I was capable of.
The eating schedule – I had thought I’d be hungry all the time, but as mentioned, I wasn’t. Not at all, I might say.
The constant meditating – one might think it’s easy to get completely bored and fed up with doing nothing but meditate for bloody two thirds of one’s awake time. That seemed not to be the case, at least for me.
I do believe though this part would turn out to be Achilles’ heel for many, especially for those who are not used to being alone with themselves. And especially for those who don’t like themselves.
Many of us have so many issues with our own selves that we can’t stand being alone, with nothing to do… because then we’ll have to deal with all the thoughts that come up when in silence. Thoughts of inadequacy, blame, shame. That’s why in our daily life we keep distracting ourselves with movies, Facebook, music, reading, meeting people…because we dont know how to be alone with ourselves and have a good time too.
The great news is that’s one of the things the meditation will help with: removing all that stuff that makes us feel bad about ourselves and about life, and allowing space for wonderful thoughts about the future and about how this life is actually a pretty magical gift and our planet a pretty magical space.
I was fine with the long hours of meditation as I was no stranger to it, but mainly because of all the 7th Path practice I had done, which has helped me tremendously with getting rid of the rubbish in my mind. Plus, since I was used to travelling mostly on my own, the long hours spent on buses, trains and planes were very good training for the 10 hours of meditation a day.
The sitting in a meditation posture for 10 hours a day – this proved to be the most challenging thing of all for me. The first day passed much better than expected, but the second one was a living hell. I have a hip sensitivity since birth, so my hips started hurting so badly that I even had trouble walking. I kept massaging my legs any chance I got, but I honestly didn’t think I could make it until the end. I had the thought of asking to be moved near a wall, so I could at least have some support for my back, but I told myself I’ll give myself just another day, and if I really can no more I will ask to be moved. And so I went with “one more day” all the way untill day 10, observing with fascination the changes my body was going through in terms of pain. If the second day I thought I would not make it, the third day was 1% better. The forth and fifth were quite incredible in that my hip pain went away during these days… but it then moved to my knees. And it was as excruciating as the hip pain. The subsequent days varied in terms of the intensity and location of the pain, but I nevertheless managed to pull through them all.
I had heard of this before and never knew to what extent it was true: that when you reach a certain level a pain, you can transcend it. Similar to getting runner’s high.
Well, during the retreat I have found the above mentioned to be true. It was not that during the last 5 days I was in less pain, but I became so much better at handling it, and at times even transcending it. It is the most incredible feeling and I cannot blame you for not believing it if you’ve not experienced it. I do hope you will have a chance to soon, though.
For me it mostly happened during what was seen as the most dreaded time of the day: a full hour of meditation in which we were not supposed to move our arms or legs at all. We had 3 such hours a day and at the beginning it was incredibly difficult and painful… but as days went by I was able to spend more than 2 hours without moving at all. And that to me was an incredible achievement, since I hadn’t before believed it was something within reach for all, but more likely something reserved to the monks who spent their entire life meditating in caves and deserts.
I was able to understand much better and actually believe those stories of monks sitting in meditation for hours or days on end, not eating, not drinking. I had only a glimpse of that state and I know it’d be not only possible, but wonderful too.
The effects of the meditation – we heard a few things before starting the meditation about the effects it had on people. There were stories of people having physical pain, continuously crying, vomiting, having head aches and stomach problems etc etc. All sorts of physcical and emotional effects.
So we were curious to see which of those we would experience. Besides some bad skin days and a lot of pain, I had no other physical effects. But the emotional ones were plenty.
The first three days were ok, the next two were good too, but by day 8 I was so irritated, anxious and practically a nervous wreck that in the morning of day 8 I almost walked out of the ashram. I went into the meditation hall at 4am as usual, and after a few minutes I didn’t know what to do with myself anymore. I felt I could not continue that “nonsense” which “might not even be for me anyway”, and didn’t understand why I was doing that stuff in the first place. I had to change my state so I walked out, took some deep breaths, looked at the stars, talked to them, walked back in and had the best meditation session of the entire 10 days. It was pretty much down hill from there, with the last 3 days ending on a high.
This was of course only my experience, and every single person doing the course had and will have a different experience. Yours might be completely different as well.
I found it interesting how my thoughts were changing from day one to ten. If in the beginning they were mostly upsetting and related to recent events and things I was going through short term, after two or three days they turned into thoughts related to what we were doing at the time, and very soon to thoughts about the future.
I had heaps of insights about what i’d be doing once I get home, about my plans and dreams. They were so detailed I could not believe it, from the coffee shop in which i’ll be catching up with friends, to the cover, first and last page of my first book. I later found out Boca had had the same kind of thoughts about the future, including the one about writing her book. That was what would make us spend 2 more weeks in the ashram once the course was over – to finally start writing the books we’d had in our mind for the past few years.
Talking to others after the end of the course we realised there were two things everyone had strong thoughts about: ex boyfriends/girlfriends and, for those of us who were traveling, going home. We found it so interesting that no matter how long we had been away, or how far we were, we all felt we really wanted to go home!
All in all, it was a unique and special experience that I definitely recommend to … everyone.
So who should do it?
Anyone who feels it’s time for a change for the better. Anyone who is unhappy and dissatisfied with life as it is. Anyone searching for peace, happiness and liberation. Anyone who wants a new perspective. Anyone who is afraid of life. Anyone who wants to not only overcome that fear, but really embrace and enjoy life to its fullest. Anyone who feels there’s something more out there. Anyone who feels the time has come:).
How can you do it?
Just go to http://www.dhamma.org/, find a time and place that suits you and register. Then reward yourself for taking the first step.
if you have any specific questions about any of this, please do drop us a line, we’d love to help out in any way.
Oh, and as Goenka would say, “may you all share my peace, joy and happiness”. Forever :).
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